The State of Michigan has thoroughly botched public education in this state!

Aside from cuts in state funding to schools (just as our legislators cut the promised revenue sharing over the years) in order to proclaim themselves tax cutters and get re-elected, their ideological Devos-like zeal for charters is ruining our schools.

No one contests that we have to have better schools and education. But as with most of our serious issues, Republican cures are actually new ills and do NOT solve the issues they purport to address!

Republican education goals are NOT student achievement and learning. Their twin goals are ideological:
a) to show that privatization is better than public and 
b) to break teacher unions

In fact, with regards to most charter/private school student performance, the driving factors are parental income and (especially for younger grade levels) class sizes. Charter/private schools achieve both to some degree. When these factors are considered, even allegedly higher performing charter/private schools show no better output than public schools.

With regards to funding, city property values where these troubled schools are located are some of the lowest in Michigan. School funding is based largely on millage rates which are calculated on property values. Thus, a 25 mill assessment on a $35,000 home in Muskegon Hts will only pull in a fraction of the dollars that a 15 mill assessment on a $150,000 home in Norton Shores. (The millage based funding works against many inner-city school systems as well as municipal operations in general).

Let’s look at two specific districts- Detroit and Muskegon Hts.

Detroit

Detroit Public Schools have been in rough shape for a while. The citizens are mired in poverty, the finances are in rough shape and income did not keep up with the bills. Republicans have been in charge of this issue now for 7 years and made minimal headway even after eliminating the “public” part of the school system and making it a charter system under the Education Achievement System. This has been a failure. Many of the students in the EAA ended up departing and returning to the public school system. The EAA essentially worked to siphon money away from the school system (as do most charters from their nearby publich schools).

Muskegon Heights

Muskegon Hts is another school in depressed poverty stricken area. Muskegon Heights was recently threatened with closure. Where were the students of this hard hit area to go for their education in the event the school was closed? Recent news reported that students would have to avail themselves of Grand Haven, Holton or Orchard View to name just three. Really? Is the state going to provide buses? How exactly will the students reach these other locations?

Other schools

The Michigan Department of Education announced at total eight districts in need of help: 
Benton Harbor Area, 
Bridgeport-Spaulding, 
Detroit Public Community, 
Kalamazoo Public, 
Muskegon Heights Academy Public, 
Pontiac, 
River Rouge 
Saginaw Public Schools

It is no surprise that these are all urban schools with low property values and old infrastructure. The state (under the Republicans) now seem to be backing off their privatization and closure zeal. Their new plans include, to quote from a WXMI news article, “to develop a plan that would leave local control intact but would require partnerships with outside organizations, like school boards, foundations or businesses.”

Their charter experiment in Detroit and Muskegon Hts failed and they cannot just close these schools because it is not logistically possible to provide education for the thousands of children involved by transporting them to nearby schools.

It should also be pointed out the state constitution entails and obligation to fund public education.

Sec. 2. Free public elementary and secondary schools; discrimination.

The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin.

No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students. The legislature may provide for the transportation of students to and from any school.

Yet state Republicans have already violated this by forwarding funding to private schools claiming it was for “non-educational” purposes that were mandated by the state. From the Detroit News “For the first time, parochial and other private schools will receive $2.5 million in state funding as reimbursement for government mandates, such as safety drills and immunization reporting.” But that is NOT what the state Constitution says! neither “directly or indirectly to aid” any private school. Yet the Republican dominated state supreme court refused to issue a ruling!

Charters designated as public schools, but operating as religious schools has been a consistent feature. It is no wonder that charter schools in this state are not subject to the same reporting requirements as regular public schools- they wouldn’t pass.

Frankly, the whole charter school movement in Michigan has been a “wedge issue” for education. It is a means to undermine public education and slowly “cook the frog” in the public’s mind regarding funding for private schools.

First, our tax dollars go to private schools even though they are called “charters” and ostensibly “public schools.”
Then our tax dollars go to support ancillary activities at actual private and religious schools.
Only one roadblock remains- our state constitution. If they can sidestep it with smoke & mirrors they will do so, but I suggest within a couple years, especially with Betsy Devos initiatives in the federal Dept of Education, state Republicans will call for a constitutional convention in attempt to re-write many of these pesky obstacles.

Oddly, for Republicans who dislike federal involvement in states, US House Bill HR-610 calls for “To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.”

It’s clear from our state constitution that even if we accepted the block grants to Michigan per the bill, the vouchers could NOT be used to fund private schools. UNLESS.. and I suspect this will be the new wedge.. unless the state determines that because it is “FEDERAL” dollars it won’t be violating the state Constitution regarding using (state) tax money for private schools

Stay tuned.

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